August News Roundup

Did NMC chemistry fly too close to the sun?

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🛠️ Industry News

GM recall hits $1.8 billion

GM has expanded their recall of defective battery modules from the Chevy Bolt, adding an additional $1b to the total bill to replace NMC cells at risk of thermal runaway. Across 73k Bolts, the cost of the recall comes to $205/kWh, compared to pack prices which sit around $100/kWh. It seems maximizing energy density at the cost of safety can be a very unprofitable tradeoff. GM has stopped production on new EV's while swapping new packs in.

The 50 Ah cells were manufactured by LG Chem, with the main defects including the current collector tabs and separators. Failed cells came from two manufacturing plants too, which means there were severe design flaws, and not just a single poorly tuned line. LG Chem is reconsidering an IPO given recent news.

While larger cells are more efficient, a single cell failure within a pack can be catastrophic. Sila Nano's Gene Berdichevsky commented on Twitter the best way forward would be to use smaller cells within packs for higher energy chemistries. Would LFP and Na-ion cells become more competitive on a system level with safety costs factored in?

LFP lands stateside

Iron phosphate Tesla Model 3's are now being offered to customers. Elon Musk himself also expressed a preference to "opt for the iron pack". The LFP battery packs will be made in China by CATL. Early LFP Model 3 owners were asked to fully charge the battery once a week to tackle complaints about cold-weather performance.

LFP continues to eat at NMC and NCA cell chemistry market share, removing the need to include expensive nickel and cobalt. BNEF's James Frith wrote a breakdown on the licensing and patent history of LFP. China's dominance on LFP stemmed from a combination of government support and a lack of enforcement for licensing. With most patents expiring, we expect international players to get involved too. The discovery and development of LFP cathodes is a storied one, with many fundamental innovations along the way.

Meanwhile, Matt Lacey showed us with his great battery model that LFP vs Li solid state could match or better NMC811/Gr on energy density. Don't worry - we'll be updating our BotB series soon to cover this comparison too!

Group14 & SK collab on silicon

SK will invest $52m to develop a materials manufacturing hub with Group14 in the form of a joint venture to manufacture silicon anode cells. This will involve Group14's flagship product, SCC55, a porous carbon scaffold material with amorphous, nano-sized silicon carbon-encased within the pores. We recently spoke with Rick Constantino (CTO of Group14), and covered their innovation deeper in our Silicon Series.

Lilium & Azul strike eVTOL deal

German startup Lilium will supply seven-seater models to Brazilian airline company Azul, with each jet costing $4.5m to break into the air taxi market. The jets are projected to cover up to 75 miles per charge and can travel up to 175 mph.

Lilium's batteries are supplied by German manufacturer Customcells which specialize in high-performance lithium-ion batteries. The eVTOL landscape is hot with competitors including Archer (partnered with United Airlines) and Joby (partnered with JetBlue). What are the performance metrics needed for electrified aviation? Read this article from Venkat Viswanathan's CMU research group.

The UK enters solid-state race

Solid-state startups have been US-centric with QuantumScape, Ionic Materials, Solid Power, Sion Power collaborating with automotive OEMs. Solid electrolyte should limit safety issues but commercializing and scaling batteries has proven a challenge. Jordan Giesige of The Limiting factor recently made a video to cover the challenges QuantumScape is encountering today.

Solid-state is projected to capture 4% of the 2030 EV market. With no clear winners yet, the UK has brought seven organizations across research, development, and manufacturing together to develop solid-state battery prototypes.


🔬 Research News

  • A Stanford sodium-chlorine battery has fallen to classic research paper - press release - news piece performance inflation antics. While the researchers were able to make the Na/Li - SOCl2 chemistry rechargeable, energy density values reported in Nature were deceptive:

  • Is academia over-optimistic? A very interesting comparison between academic and industry expectations for battery cycle life was shared by Gabriel Quintans:

  • Keep your eyes on sodium-ion batteries. Frank Wunderlich-Pfeiffer (perhaps the most passionate advocate of Na chemistry on all of #batterytwitter) has been sharing a lot on encouraging performance metrics for safety, cost, as well as our biases towards Li.


📅 Events

The Electric. Making for Forever Battery. Steve Levine with Gene Berdichevsky, employee No. 7 at Tesla and CEO of Sila Nanotechnologies Inc. Sept. 8 at noon ET.


🚀 Startup Tracker


🎧 On our reading/listening list

  1. JPhys Energy. 2021 roadmap for sodium-ion batteries.

  2. Intercalation's Silicon Series. We cover Advano, Amprius, Enevate (Part 1), Enovix, Group14, and Leydenjar (Part 2). Part 3 is to come soon.

  3. The Guardian. Millions of electric car batteries will retire in the next decade. What happens to them?

  4. Mewburn Ellis x Intercalation. June and July 2021 patent roundup.

  5. The Electric. The New Iron Age: a conversation with Steve LeVine and MIT Professor Yet-Ming Chiang.

  6. Matt Lacey. Basic modelling of battery cells and cell properties.

  7. Bloomberg. Next-Generation Battery Pioneer Sees Breakthroughs Coming.


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About the writers: Andrew is a PhD researcher at the University of Oxford (@ndrewwang). Nicholas is a Business Manager at UCL Business and Venture Fellow with Berkeley SkyDeck (@nicholasyiu). Ethan is a battery scientist who’s set to join the Jeff Dahn Research Group in September (@ethandalter).